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Working Paper, No. 2020-15, May 2020 Crossref
Heterogeneity in the Marginal Propensity to Consume: Evidence from Covid-19 Stimulus Payments

We identify 16,016 recipients of Covid-19 Economic Impact Payments in anonymized transaction-level debit card data from Facteus. We use an event study framework to show that in the two weeks following a sudden $1,200 payment from the IRS, consumers immediately increased spending by an average of $577, implying a marginal propensity to consume (MPC) of 48%. Consumer spending falls back to normal levels after two weeks. Stimulus recipients who live paycheck-to-paycheck spend 68% of the stimulus payment immediately, while recipients who save much of their monthly income spend 23% of the stimulus payment immediately. Consumer age and location are only marginally correlated with individual MPCs after controlling for each individual’s pre-pandemic propensity to save. We use the 2018 American Community Survey to re-weight our data to match the U.S. population. Ignoring equilibrium effects and assuming a constant MPC for each person, we estimate that the CARES Act’s $296 billion of payments to individuals will increase consumer spending by $138 billion (47% of total outlays). A stimulus bill of the same size targeted at individuals with the highest MPCs would have instead increased consumer spending by $201 billion (68% of total outlays).


Working papers are not edited, and all opinions and errors are the responsibility of the author(s). The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago or the Federal Reserve System.

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